Some of you will be aware that five years ago, just a few weeks before my Dad died, we lost our great-niece Emma Faith at full term about 90 minutes before her birth. You can imagine how devastating Emma’s loss was to the family and to my niece and her husband in particular.
When I realised that Bella Cassidy’s book, Shoot the Moon, tackles such difficult aspects of life, albeit in a light-hearted manner, and this week is Baby Loss Awareness Week, I simply had to ask Bella to write a guest piece for Linda’s Book Bag.
Before I share that post with you, let’s find out about Shoot the Moon which is available for purchase here.
Shoot the Moon
In a world of brides wearing black, disorderly doves, and weddings on mountains – what could possibly go wrong? Quite a lot it seems, when you also have a heart-broken photographer who’s secretly given up on romance.
Tassie Morris is everyone’s favourite wedding photographer, famous for her photos of offbeat ceremonies and alternative brides. Yet commitment is proving impossible for Tassie herself, who cannot forget her first love.
When she’s sent to photograph a ceremony on Schiehallion – the Fairy Hill of the Scottish Highlands – she meets Dan, who might be the one to make her forget her past. That is, until a family crisis begins a chain of events that threaten to destroy not only Tassie’s love life, but her entire career.
Set in a colourful world of extraordinary weddings, Shoot the Moon explores the complexities of different kinds of love: romantic love, mother love, friendship. And, ultimately, the importance of loving yourself.
Tackling Difficult Topics in Fiction
A Guest Post from Bella Cassidy
This week marks Baby Loss Awareness Week, and it’s made me think about the fact that I’ve written three novels, two of which feature women losing their babies through miscarriage or stillbirth.
I’ve often wondered why I should have been drawn to research and write about these issues – having been lucky enough never to have experienced them personally. Family history briefly mentions that I was a rainbow baby – born after my mother had a miscarriage – and I’ve always been grateful to the baby who came before me. Also, in a previous life I co-founded a baby swimming company, and in 2006 one of my franchisees, Tamsin Brewis, suggested we fundraise for Tommy’s, the baby charity.
the extraordinary ordinary
I rang her to hesitantly check my estimate that Water Babies has since raised nearly £2million for the charity. ‘Er no, we’ve raised over four, and as of the end of this month it will be £4.5million.’
And then it came back to me, the conversations we had with the staff at Tommy’s when Tamsin and I originally went to see them: the woman who’d had 18 miscarriages over six years, before she’d finally managed to give birth to a healthy baby. The women who easily fall pregnant, only to continually lose their babies; or those who find it impossible to conceive. Then there was the devastating cruelty of the phrase, ‘It’s nature’s way’ – clearly still an attitude today, given that one of the first things you see on Tommy’s home page is the sentence, ‘Losing a baby should never be ‘just one of those things’’. And on another, the hashtag #breakthesilence.
Tommy’s was started in 1992 to challenge the lack of answers surrounding premature birth. Since then it’s grown to be the UK’s largest charity researching the causes and prevention of pregnancy complications, miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth and neonatal death. Thanks to the charity putting research into practice at specialist clinics across the UK, the rates of heart-breaking losses are falling year on year -and it aims to have halved them by 2030.
When we visited the organisation in 2006, people just didn’t talk about miscarriage. And the strange thing is that now, in 2021, people still don’t really talk about, nor write about it. Just like I remember being hugely irritated by the attitude of a major childbirth organisation who told me, ‘We don’t want to publicise how potentially difficult breastfeeding can be’ – meaning it can hit new mothers like a sledgehammer when it turns out to be really hard – miscarriage and stillbirth are still something that women have to suffer almost in silence, despite it affecting every part of their life, often for the rest of their lives.
I was extremely grateful to be able to interview one of my former colleagues, who sadly lost her baby at twenty-one weeks. We spoke for over an hour, our voices low amongst the chatter and clatter of the café where we met, and I was shocked to discover the depth of pain she’d experienced, but so impressed by her strength and resilience, as well as the love woven into her story.
Next, I spent days scrolling through websites and chat rooms – women’s (and men’s) grief shading every page. I now know that a hospital can organise a full funeral, with a hearse, a tiny coffin and bearers to carry it, should you want. I watched a heart-breaking documentary, ‘Still Loved’, learning that 7,000 babies are stillborn, across the world, every single day. I read that if a baby dies after 20 weeks the mother will be encouraged to have a ‘natural birth’ – and I couldn’t begin to imagine the trauma of having to go through that.
It was like I’d entered a completely hidden world – reading page after page on a subject that remains taboo, yet affects so many.
For in the UK, it’s estimated that one in four pregnancies end in loss during pregnancy or birth. One. In. Four. That’s just so much grief that’s just not being talked about, nor depicted in the stories we read and watch. Thus creating a vacuum; when really women should be able to see their experiences reflected back at them, should they want.
I think I now understand why I’ve written my novels: because the memories of walking around the wards in Tommy’s have stayed with me. Fifteen years ago, I was privileged to see the tiniest of babies thriving under the hospital’s care; and the scores of cards lining the hospital walls, sent by grateful parents who’d never believed they’d one day carry their baby home. And it became deeply embedded in me how lucky I’ve been. For not only was I fortunate to give birth to two healthy babies, but I thrived during both pregnancies; never knowing the acute anxiety of ‘what if it goes wrong again.’
I have debated and deliberated over the cover of my first published novel, Shoot the Moon – executed, admittedly, in a bit of a rush. I find myself handing the book to people, saying, ‘It actually contains much deeper themes of attachment hunger and miscarriage than the cover might imply.’ Which is ironic, for I’ve always remembered Jojo Moyes expressing her frustration that, “So many women who write about quite difficult issues are lumped under the ‘chick lit’ umbrella. It’s so reductive and disappointing.” I for one was delighted when the term lost its traction in the UK – although interestingly it’s currently enjoying a strong resurgence in the US.
Yet numerous people in publishing have reassured me that the cover is right for the genre – and admittedly the novel does also contain doves flying amok, jaunts on borrowed horses and the traditional love story arc necessary for a contemporary romance. But I remain uncomfortable – and will one day change it for something less ‘lightweight’.
For being unable to conceive is heart-breaking, just as the loss of a child is deeply traumatic; leaving women (and men),as one mother described it, ‘being left grasping at something permanently just out of reach’.
Or, as my colleague told me, quietly, leaning over the table in the café, “The majority of the time I’m totally fine. It is what it is. She was never a person, I don’t have a memory of her, I’m totally fine. It’s just three days of the year when I crack and go into the ‘I should be inflating a balloon tonight’, and instead I’m sat there crying.”
So you see, to me, my cover feels a little too much like the phrase, ‘just one of those things.’ Just one of those things: like difficult breastfeeding, caesareans and miscarriage, that women are expected to cope with – quietly. Dismissed as ‘not that important’ by society – just as the research Tommy’s now carries out was also deemed unnecessary, thirty years ago.
I am immensely proud of the money Water Babies has raised for the charity – money that’s paid for the creation of a research centre in Warwick. It’s ten years since I stepped away from my company, but if I can still do one thing to help #breakthesilence it’s by continuing to write honest novels that reflect the depth and breadth of the hardships so many women experience, yet rarely hear being spoken about. Although, in the future, I’ll aim for more complex covers. Ones that pay proper tribute to lives which demonstrate the courage of the extraordinary ordinary; as opposed to being ‘just one of those things.’
What a wonderful post Bella. You have expressed so much of what our family experienced. I think guest posts like this and books like Shoot the Moon are essential for breaking down the barriers to difficult topics. I know your book is a light hearted read with some weighty topics and I agree that finding the ‘right’ cover is a difficult balance, but what’s that old adage? Never judge a book by its cover!
Thank you so much for sharing this with us and huge congratulations on all your fund raising success.
About Bella Cassidy
Bella Cassidy grew up in the West Country – reading contemporary romances, romances, historical novels, literary fiction… Just about anything she could lay her hands on. After a few years in London, working as a waitress and in PR and advertising, she went to Sussex to read English – despite admitting in her pre-interview that this rather sociable period in her life had seen her read only one book in six months: a Jilly Cooper.
She’s had an eclectic range of jobs: including in the world of finance; social housing fundraising; a stint at the Body Shop – working as Anita Roddick’s assistant; as a secondary school teacher, then teaching babies to swim: all over the world.
She’s done a lot of research for writing a weddings romance, having had two herself. For her first she was eight months pregnant – a whale in bright orange – and was married in a barn with wood fires burning. The second saw her in elegant Edwardian silk, crystals and lace, teamed with yellow wellies and a cardigan. Both were great fun; but it was lovely having her daughter alongside, rather than inside her at the second one.
Bella Cassidy is the pen name of Jess Morency and you can follow Jess on Twitter @meHappyShed or visit her blog or website for further information. You can also find Jess on Instagram. Bella is on Facebook and Instagram.
Baby Loss Awareness
If you have been affected by baby loss, please visit the Baby Loss Awareness Week website or follow them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @BLA_Campaign.
Tommy’s is dedicated to finding causes and treatments to save babies’ lives as well as providing trusted pregnancy and baby loss information and support.
Visit the Tommy’s website for further information. You can follow Tommy’s on Twitter @tommys, or find them on Facebook and Instagram.
Water Babies believes confidence starts with baby swimming. Their vision is a world where the physical and emotional development of every child is fully supported and nurtured from birth.
For more information, visit the Water Babies website, follow them on Twitter @WaterBabies or find them on Facebook and Instagram.
3 thoughts on “Tackling Difficult Topics in Fiction: A Guest Post by Bella Cassidy, Author of Shoot the Moon”
Very moving x
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So encouraging that Bella is tackling such a personal and heart breaking topic in her own way. Much applause Linda for giving her the space to do this.
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Thanks Karen. x